The period of convict transportation to NSW spanned from 1788 to 1842, and it’s estimated that around 166,000 convicts were transported to Australia during this period.
There is a plethora of primary and secondary source materials that can help you in your journey to research convicts in New South Wales. Unfortunately, unlike the Tasmania collection of archival records detailing convict life, resources for NSW convict history are not located within a single repository. It might take a little bit more time to unravel the convict history of NSW, but rest assured: we’re here to help.
NSW State Archives, now part of Museums of History NSW, has an incredible collection of documents relating to convicts transported to NSW. Their guide to researching convicts can be found here.
The State Library of NSW is another main repository for a number of convict records, and they have created a series of excellent guides to help aid researchers in their quest for information on convicts. Their “Getting Started” guide is an excellent place to, well, get started, while their “Bound For Australia” guide focuses on the life of the convict before arriving in the Australian colonies. Meanwhile, “Life in the Colony” explores the records available to build a better understanding of life in the colonies for convicts.
There are several online databases and websites that have collated information about convicts in NSW, such as:
Ancestry.com.au: This subscription-based service has a database of NSW and Tasmania Convict Records.
Findmypast.com.au: Another subscription-based service with an extensive collection of convict records.
ConvictRecords.com.au: A free online database of Australian convict records.
DigitalPanopticon.org: This free website allows you to search millions of records from around fifty datasets, relating to the lives of 90,000 convicts from the Old Bailey.
Old newspapers can be an excellent source of information about specific convicts. The National Library of Australia’s Trove website is a free online database of historical Australian newspapers that can be searched by name.
Use Secondary Sources: Books, academic articles, and websites can provide a broader context to the life of your convict. This might include information about the conditions on convict ships, the treatment of convicts in NSW, and the types of work they were likely to do. Our show notes, found on our podcast page, contain the secondary literature used in building the narrative for each episode.
Remember, the records may not contain all the information you are looking for, and you might need to cross-reference between different sources. Also, keep in mind that spelling and transcription errors are common in historical records, so be creative with search terms and spelling variations.